In the spring of 2015 I worked with 9 groups (35 students) at the IT University of Copenhagen and the IT department at the second largest insurance company in Denmark, Topdanmark.

The process: Finding and presenting a relevant problem
Leading up to the course ‘Concept Development with Industry’ I had selected and scoped a number of suitable problems in Topdanmark with the Head of IT regarding internal and external problem solving.

The head of IT came presented the company and the 6 problems to the students:

  1. Ticket system: Improving end user experience (internal)
  2. Insurance agent platform (internal)
  3. Website: My Topdanmark (external)
  4. Social media (external)
  5. Rethinking the P-building (internal)
  6. Communication in IT (internal)

Under these headlines each problem was unfolded by listing:

  • The problem in detail
  • Examples of the problem
  • Goal / Success criteria for a solution
  • Contact person

The presentation was followed by a Q and A session to further understand the problems at hand and each problem was represented by a poster that was put up on the wall in the classroom.

The process: Setting the perfect team
The student groups were formed using two criteria: personal interest and Belbin Team Roles.

The students took a Belbin Team Role test and assessed their preferred 2-3 team roles before forming groups. The preferred roles should be visible on a nametag that each student wore.

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The students were then asked to browse around at the problem posters for 20 minutes and pursue their personal interest in the various problems while talking to each other about forming ‘a perfect team’. At the end of the browsing period they were asked to reflect individually and decide on at least 2 problems they would like to work with (to heighten each student’s personal motivation).

In the second phase they were asked to revisit their favorite problem and form teams of 5-7 people that collectively covered all 9 Belbin Roles to secure broad competences in each group regardless of the selected challenge.

If they exceeded 7 interested students at the same problem poster, they faced two options:

Split up in two groups and try to find two more students interested in the same problem AND make sure they are still covering all 9 Belbin roles with only 5 members in each group.

OR:

Count the number of various Belbin roles represented in the group and minimize the group by eliminating ‘doubles’. (Members with identical profiles must work out who will leave the group and look for a second choice of problem.)

The process: feasibility study
Once the groups were formed the students planned a feasibility study relevant to their problem gathering their own data and empirical finds. The work covered desktop research, interviews, focus groups, observation and surveys.

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The process: Concept development
While gathering information and data the students worked in iterative cycles with creative idea development followed by alignment of the ideas with customers / user needs. The goal was to present not only ideas, but also build a robust business case around the ideas presented to Topdanmark. In this part of the process the students worked with Alex Osterwalder (and Pigneur et. al.)’s Value Proposition Canvas (2014) and Business Model Canvas (2010) in order to reach a viable and solid fit between problem and solution.

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The process: Pitching the concepts
Once the group arrived at specific solutions to their problems they were asked to design a 5 minute pitch of the concept using the NABC method

Exactly 3 months after the initial problem brief Topdanmark a panel of 6 Topdanmark executives were invited to IT University see and review the proposals for solutions to their problems.

The presentations were supplemented by a little paper booklet with a one page handout per group stating the concept title, the group member names and contact info and the basic info about the solution.

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The Process: Putting it all into writing
The pitching seminar provided each group with valuable feedback from Topdanmark and encouraged several groups to do yet another iteration of the concept before writing it all up the academic report including the theories and methods used for feasibility studies, the full documentation for the empirical finds and testing of the initial ideas with the target group.

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Key learnings from the process were:

  • find real problems to work with (companies or society)
  • create diverse teams to secure quality and progress
  • give access to stakeholders, real data and real users
  • focus on value creation (commercial or otherwise)
  • pitch and feedback from the ‘problem owner’